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Short /u/ in word-final position in monomorphemes

In Afrikaans, /u/ is regarded phonemically as a short vowel, despite some phonotactic contexts in which it is phonetically long. The same applies to /i/ and /y/. Apart from /ɛ/, /ɔ/, /œ/ and /y/, all the other short vowels occur freely in open as well as closed syllables in word-final position.

Word-final orthographic o, as in, for example foto /'fo.tu/ ['fuə.tu] photo, is generally pronounced as [u] in Afrikaans, phonemicised as the short vowel phoneme /u/. This is contrary to the situation in Dutch where o in open, final syllables, as in foto /'fo.to/ ['fo.to], is generally considered to be phonemically long (see the topic on the Dutch vowel inventory). In in a few cases in Afrikaans, however, written o in word-final position is realised by a phonetically long [uə], phonemically long /o/. In such instances it is also stressed (Long vowels in monomorphemes).

In all instances of short vowels, the following topics should be taken into account as important background information:

As an orientation with respect to all topics concerning stress placement in Afrikaans monomorphemes, the following reference list should be consulted:

(De Stadler 1981; Combrink and De Stadler 1987; De Stadler 1991; De Villiers 1965; De Villiers and Ponelis 1992; Lee 1963; Le Roux 1936; Le Roux and Pienaar 1927; Lubbe 1993; Wissing 1971; Wissing 1987; Wissing 1988; Wissing 1989; Wissing 1991; Wissing 2017)


In the following sections, /u/ is treated with respect to its role in the stress pattern of Afrikaans monomorphemic words, both in open as well as closed syllables in word-final position. The generalization to be made is that /u/ is stressed in word-final, closed syllables, while, in the case of word-final open syllable, it is unstressed with the primary stress in the word falling on the penultimate syllable. This is also the case with short /ə/, /ɑ/, /i/, /ɛ/ and /ɔ/. Note, however, that /ɛ/ and /ɔ/ only occur in polysyllabic persons' and place names from indigenous languages, see Short ɛ in monomorphemes and Short ɔ in monomorphemes. The Afrikaans phoneme /u/ does occur in a few restricted instances in positions other than word-final, but such examples are not particularly interesting with respect to general stress patterns, as these bisyllablic words all end on unstressable pseudo-suffixes. The following list is just about complete: boetseer; broeder; droesem; koester; oefen; oester; ploeter; soepel; troetel; woeker (Primary stress in monomorphemes ending on Type-I schwa).

In the subsequent sections, we first attend to /u/ in open syllables in word-final position, and then, subsequently, to /u/ in closed ones.

[+]The phoneme /u/ in open syllables

Here /u/ [u] is spelled oe; elsewhere also with o.

Table 1: Word-final /u/ in open syllables
aloe kangaroe
Boeboe kariboe
boegoe kikoejoe
boendoe koedoe
doedoe rabbedoe
emoe sjampoe
ghoeroe taboe
haikoe taptoe
Hindoe voedoe
joejitsoe Zoeloe

  1. Four of these words have have final stress: kaketoe, kangaroe, kariboe, sjampoe; the rest all exhibit penultimate stress; all of them are bisyllabic. The Afrikaans phoneme /u/ may be classified as phonetically long in both the stressed and unstressed cases (see Long vowels in monomorphemes). The example kariboe is classified by (Neijt and Zonneveld 1982) as member of the subgroup of -i- words with antepenult stress.
  2. Although penultimate stress is a trend in the above data, no definitive support for penultimate stress can be claimed on the basis of these cases.

The subsequent set of monomorphemes ending on o /u/ [u] provides additional backing for the main stress pattern, viz. penultimate stress, irrespective of word length.

Table 2: Monomorphemes ending on <o>
aero dito indigo memo saldo
Afro ditto inferno merino Salomo
albino dodo Jerigo metro salvo
allegro domino jingo Mexiko silo
anno duo judo mezzo sito
Apollo eggo kado mikro sitosito
avokado ego Kaïro moderato soho
bambino ekspo kakao Monaco solo
banjo embrio kalipso mono sombrero
bio ergo kambro motto Sotho
blanko Eskimo kano Nero Soweto
bolero Euro Kilimandjaro netto stereo
Borneo falsetto kilo Oslo studio
bravo Farao kimono Owambo Swapo
bruto fiasko kommando Pablo tablo
buro Fingo Kongo patio tango
casino flamenco largo piano tempo
Castro folio lasso Pinocchio tjello
Chicago foto legio plato Tokio
Colorado gekko Leo Pluto tornado
concerto Gestapo Leonardo polio Toronto
credo guwano Lesotho polo torpedo
crescendo ghetto libido pomelo torso
Cupido gigolo libretto Porto transito
dato guano lido radio trio
deposito hallo Limpopo ratio tuxedo
dinamo halo logo retro ultimo
dingo hobo ludo rio veto
disko iglo mango risiko video
diskonto imago rodeo zero

  1. A number of proper names spelled with word-final o are provided here as representative for a fairly large set of similar cases.
  2. Quite a number of indigenous South African place names and names of people are spelled with final o. These have been incorporated into Afrikaans, mainly from Bantu languages, and are pronounced as either [ɔ] or [u]. Some examples are: Lebombo; Levubo; Limpopo; Madimbo; Makgabo; Shivambo; Sonwabo; Tambo; Thabo. In English this vowel is regularly diphthongised to [əu].
  3. Limpopo displays variable pronunciation between [u] and [uə].
  4. In bisyllabic words above, final o is unstressed in most cases. Exceptions are bravo, buro, kambro, kano, tablo. Penultimate stress is thus the default position in the case of bisyllabic monomorphemes.
  5. Penultimate stress is also present in all the multisyllabic words, except for Borneo, deposito, dinamo, domino, embrio, Eskimo, Farao, gigolo, Jerigo, libido, Pinocchio, risiko, rodeo and ultimo which display antepenultimate stress. Note that the penultimate vowel is mostly /i/ – written as either e (e.g. in Borneo) or /i/ (in /deposito/).
  6. It is to be expected that some of the o's would be pronounced by individual speakers as not quite [u], but rather as something inbetween [u] and [uə].

[+]The phoneme /u/ in closed syllables

Examples of this type are rather restricted; the lists in this table are more or less complete.

Table 3: Closed syllables with /u/
fatsoen seisoen voe-voel
festoen sitroen warboel
galjoen spioen kaboem
garnisoen visioen noem-noem
griffioen koekeloer verdoem
kalkoen pandoer
kampioen perlemoen
katoen poer-poer
legioen retoer
lemoen rumoer
miljoen tamboer
pampoen kaboel
pawiljoen karakoel
pensioen spanjoel
perlemoen vitrioel

  1. Final stress dominates in all these cases but warboel, which might be classified as a compound word (war+boel), with normal penultimate stress. The reduplications poer-poer, voel-voel and noem-noem are not normal monomorphemic words; stress placement is not quite clear, and differs from person to person (See Reduplications in Afrikaans).
  2. It is striking that words ending on n are more numerous than the other three types.

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